Meet: Tessa Padden and Linda Day, creators of online BSL resource Signworld

Posted on March 27, 2012

A brand-new website called Signworld has just been launched, and is set to revolutionise the way people can learn and teach British Sign Language (BSL). The site was created by Linda Day and Tessa Padden, two of Britain’s most experienced university-level teachers, so we thought it was time we found out what the site is all about…

What is Signworld?

Linda: Signworld is something we have dreamed about for years. Every BSL teacher knows there have never been enough of the right resources to teach or learn BSL.

With the decline in Deaf club attendance, there are also fewer opportunities for learners to meet real Deaf people and see how we sign. Now, the Web gives us the scope to make a lot of that available online.

Signworld is what modern language learning is all about – being able to teach and learn language and culture in a brand new way. And it’s not just about vocabulary – we use stories, broken down into individual phrases, so that learners can really see how the language is used – not just what individual signs mean.

You can learn anywhere, at any time, at your own pace, with hours of fun learning.

Tell us how Signworld came about? Who had the idea, and how was it funded?

Tessa: I’ll spare Linda’s blushes by telling you that she came to me with this idea after she left the Centre for Deaf Studies at Bristol University in 2010!

I had been thinking about similar ideas for a long time, and suggested something like this to my previous employers, but none of them ever took it up.

With Linda’s e-learning expertise and my experience in teaching, teacher training and curriculum development, we thought we could make a real go of it now, as a Deaf-led partnership.

We developed the idea for the website and managed to get 30% support funding from the North East England Investment Centre to pay for a professional web design company, Wired Media, to develop it with us.

But most of the investment has come from our own resources.

It looks comprehensive – how long did it take to put together?

Linda: Thank you – we want it to be as comprehensive as possible.

That’s why we’ve made it in compliance with the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, so that it covers every aspect of language learning requirements, like any other language-learning package.

It’s taken over 18 months since the first discussions. We started filming last year, then Wired Media worked with us for over six months to get the website ready.

So it’s been a long process – and a very steep learning curve!

What do you hope people will get out of using Signworld?

Tessa: The key thing is they will learn from how real Deaf people sign, not only in the London area, which is where Linda and I originated, but all over the country.

We’re starting off with 14 different regions and wherever there’s a significant regional variation, people can click on and see the signs from their region. We hope to add to that in future, so that will show people the richness and diversity of BSL all over the UK.

If their computers have webcams, they can also record and compare their own signing, store it online, and practise till they get it perfect.

We hope many more people will learn how to understand Deaf people when they meet, and be able to sign back to them in much more natural and fluent BSL.

Linda: And, of course, we hope many more people will go on to be successful in their BSL exams and assessments – and build up a greater core of really fluent BSL/English interpreters and Communication Support Workers.

Will there be any future developments for the site?

Linda: Oh yes, we’ve only just started! Level 1 and Fingerspelling are ready – because Fingerspelling is one area where a lot of people struggle. Level 2 will be ready soon.

Then we’re developing a Teachers’ Package that will support BSL teachers in their work, with a lot of advice about classroom management, second-language teaching methods, learning activities, games and so on.

Tessa: This will all be presented in BSL, of course.

Linda: Eventually we’ll have a package for all 6 Levels of learning BSL, plus extra features like ‘Lost in Translation’, that will help everybody to navigate their way around the pitfalls of translating from any language into another, especially interpreters and CSWs.

Tessa: We’ll also have a service called ‘One to One’, where teachers or learners can book a one-to-one online tutorial with a teacher or trainer who understands their individual needs and can advise them and talk them through it.

This means that we can support any teacher or any learner, anywhere in the country, whether they’re following the Signature curriculum, the BDA curriculum, or any other.

Linda: For ‘One to One’, of course, they’ll need a computer with a webcam. But all the other learning materials are there for them to enjoy and practise with online at any time, in the privacy of their own homes.

And whatever package they subscribe to, they get unlimited access to that package for a whole year. So with Level 1, for example, for just £29.99 they get the equivalent of going to their local Deaf club to talk to real Deaf people, any time they like.

But above all, it’s learning through having fun and enjoying yourself, with thousands of little tests they can set themselves and games they can play!

One year of access to Level 1 costs just £29.99. Go to the Signworld website to find out more:

Linda Day is the former Director of the Centre for Deaf Studies, University of Bristol, and a well-known teacher, trainer, video and television presenter. Tessa Padden has been a teaching and research fellow at various UK universities and is a well-known teacher, trainer, video and television presenter.

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